One could argue that Princeton, N.J. has already left an indelible mark on the Academy Awards, thanks to Princeton High School graduate Damien Chazelle’s Best Director Oscar win for his masterpiece La La Land – oh, and that little snafu with Best Picture.
But on this Sunday’s broadcast of the 91st Academy Awards, there will be another Princeton connection, and this time it’s gown – not town – with Princeton University’s Chai Vasarhelyi ’00, co-director of Free Solo, a Best Documentary Feature nominee.
Fresh off a BAFTA win, she and co-director (and husband) Jimmy Chin have to wait a few more hours to see if their documentary of Alex Honnold’s supernatural free solo ascent (a climb without ropes or aid of any kind) of the sheer rock granite El Capitan in Yosemite National Park takes home the Oscar. The film has garnered much attention for both the directors and Honnold, but it is one in a long line of Ms. Vasarhelyi’s award-winning documentaries.
Fresh out the gates as a Princeton grad with a B.A. in Comparative Literature, her senior thesis project turned feature documentary, “A Normal Life”, won the Tribeca Film Festival. She went to work for the late Director, Mike Nichols, and continued to direct documentaries.
In 2011, Chai teamed up for the first time with Jimmy Chin to direct Meru. This film documents Chin’s first ascent attempts, with two other climbers, of the deadly 21,000 foot Shark’s Fin Peak in The Himalayas (described by some as a harder climb than Mt. Everest). Meru, the audience winner at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, was also shortlisted for an Oscar.
But this year, Free Solo made the cut, and tonight, February 24, 2019, we’ll have our fingers crossed in Princeton for an Oscar win. Tune in at 8pm on ABC, and check out the film beforehand on Amazon Prime or itunes. And the not-to-be-missed Meru is available on NetFlix.